On Friday, a New York appeals court ruled that a Buffalo man could sue the manufacturer, the distributor and the dealer of the pistol that was used to shoot him when he was 16 years old.
Daniel Williams, a former basketball standout and Division I prospect, was shot in the stomach by a thug who mistakenly identified him as a rival gang member in 2003.
Williams’ legal team, which consists of attorneys for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, stated that Ohio-based gun manufacturer Hi-Point and distributor MKS Supply Inc. intentionally supplied weapons to unscrupulous dealers because they profited from sales to the criminal gun market.
The Appellate Division of the New York state Supreme Court agreed with Williams’ complaint and overturned a lower court’s 2011 dismissal of the case under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a law designed to protect firearms manufacturers and dealers from being held liable for crimes committed with their products.
Why did the appeals court side with Williams’ attorneys and not the federal law that protects businesses that make and sell firearms?
The Associated Press laid out the plaintiff’s argument:
Attorneys for Williams argued the gun had ended up on the streets of Buffalo and in the hands of convicted shooter Cornell Caldwell through gun trafficker James Bostic, who’d bought some 200 guns from a federal licensed firearms dealer in Ohio by using a straw purchaser who would sign the paperwork.
Williams’ attorneys claimed the Ohio dealer, Charles Brown, knew or should have known that Bostic was buying the handguns to resell on the streets because he paid cash, chose Hi-Point 9 mm guns favored by criminals and bought them in bulk. Hi-Point and MKS should have known that Brown, who has since become president of MKS, was distributing the guns they supplied to him to criminals, Williams said.
And Justice Erin Peradotto explained why the court ruled in favor of Williams, “Although the complaint does not specify the statutes allegedly violated, it sufficiently alleges facts supporting a finding that defendants knowingly violated federal gun laws.”
In other words, the PLCAA does not protect companies who break federal gun laws, which is common sense. One breaks the law, he/she suffers the consequences.
But the question is, did Hi-Point and MKS really break the law? Or were they hoodwinked by Bostic?
If Hi-Point and MKS can prove that they did their due diligence on Bostic before making the deal (particularly, MKS which made the deal directly with Bostic; Hi-Point’s liability in all of this seems highly tenuous) they should be free and clear.
Attorneys for both sides think that their respective parties will be vindicated during future legal proceedings.
“We’re confident that discovery will show that there were not violations of any statute by (Hi-Point) in its sale of the pistol to MKS,” Hi-Point attorney Scott Allan told the Associated Press.
He added that Hi-Point, whose corporate name is Beemiller Inc., has and will continue to sell handguns only to federal licensees and that MKS is a licensed whole distributor.
“We believe (the lower court’s ruling) was a courageous and legally correct decision, but the Fourth Department was unwilling to follow his well reasoned opinion,” he told Reuters. “Whether we appeal or not, we are confident that ultimately the facts will contradict the baseless allegations in the complaint and the case will be dismissed.”
Meanwhile, lawyers at the Brady Campaign believe that this case will have repercussions for the firearm industry.
“Cases like this send a powerful message to those bad apples in the gun industry who want to profit from the criminal gun trade thinking that they’re above the law and they’ll never have to pay the cost when innocent people are shot,” Brady attorney Jonathan Lowy told the Associated Press. “And cases like this send a message that even if you don’t care about the human consequences, if you care about your bottom line you should act responsibly.”
Without knowing all the facts of the case it’s difficult to say for sure who knew what, and what happened from transaction to transaction. That said, knowing that the Brady Campaign is involved in the case, it makes one wonder whether this is an attempt to roll back the PLCAA and open gun manufacturers to all sorts of frivolous lawsuits (judging by the Brady’s advertisement pictured above, one wouldn’t be surprised).